With every new convenience that arises, so do the issues that come with it. Social media has been immensely helpful for connecting people and building communities. It’s sparked movements for social and cultural change, and it’s compelled people to form a stronger sense of self-identity. These days we’re more digitally connected than we’ve ever been.

It’s been almost 15 years since Facebook ignited a social media revolution. Just enough time for us to begin to see the impact social media has left in our world.

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Loneliness: A Growing Epidemic

Despite being the most digitally connected generation, we’re also the loneliest. A recent study of Australian teenagers showed that the heaviest social media users experience the greatest amount of anxiety. Research conducted at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine determined that the more time young adults spend on social media, the more likely they are to be depressed. One-quarter of millennials look at their phone more than 100 times a day setting the stage for depression and anxiety.

Just over a month ago, Katie, noticed the effects that Facebook was having on her life, and her recovery. What she discovered made her decide to quit the social platform for the time being.

“What I felt like, was that it was indicative of addiction the way I had used it. It came to the point where I would be on Facebook and not even realizing that I was using to check out of social anxieties that I felt. I wasn’t facing some fears because I was using it as a crutch.”

Social media was created to bring people together. We are more connected but in a less meaningful and engaging way. Click To Tweet

“You don’t realize how much time you are wasting on Facebook until you’re not using it anymore. For that first week or so you’re experiencing your downtime, and you go to grab your phone and go on Facebook, and you’re like oh, I don’t have it. You realize how much time you’re wasting when you could be doing something that is productive. Like going outside or calling somebody that means something to you in your life. Versus putting on a show for people you never even get to see.”

The Facebook vortex has more than an effect on your immediate social life. It’s making people lonelier. In the March/April 2018 print edition of Psychology Today, Jennifer Latson cites a British Study that found those between 16-24 were the most likely to report feelings of loneliness. Many experts believe the growing loneliness is linked to social media use.

Social Media is Making Us Sick: Here's What to Do

 Social Media Vs. Mental Health

Facebook isn’t the only social media platform that leads to higher cases of mental health issues. Namely because of FOMO – the fear of missing out. Amy Morin, author of 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do, dives in.

“I think one of the big reasons, especially now that we have social media, is it’s so easy to look around and say I should be doing something differently; everybody else has a better life than I do, how come everyone else is happier? And it just becomes really pervasive. We’re surrounded by it all the time.”

According to a recent survey, Instagram is the worst social network for mental health and well-being.

“Research will link spending too much time on social media to anxiety. Studies will show that the worst social networking site for our mental health is Instagram because it’s just images. And it’s so easy to look at images of other people, whether you’re looking at fitness models or you’re looking at people who are out celebrating something or they’re on vacation. And you start to think well gosh I don’t have all that going on in my life or I wish I could be like that. And rather than thinking, okay if I want to make changes in my life I can, we tend to think I could never achieve that or I’m not as good as that person is and it definitely takes a big toll on your mental health in terms of depression, anxiety. People start to experience these envious or resentful attitudes toward others, and for a lot of people it leads to despair.”

Facebook and Instagram have acknowledged how the social platforms affect mental health. They’ve even introduced tools and features to address it.

Instagram recently launched a “wellbeing team” stating that quote “making the community a safer place, a place where people feel good, is a huge priority for Instagram” end quote. It’s still not entirely known what the wellbeing team does or will do.

Facebook, on the other hand, proposes that we use the app more. Returning to its roots, the new mission for the company is to bring people closer together. Instead of scrolling passively, Facebook reps say that quote “actively interacting with people – especially sharing messages, posts, and comments with close friends and reminiscing about past interactions – is linked to improvements in well-being” end quote.

Some people quit the social platforms with no issue. Others, especially young people who were raised on social media, have a much harder time cutting the proverbial cord. And despite #deletefacebook going viral last month, the Facebook user base has not decreased, it’s grown.

Is Social Media Making Us Sick?

So, is social media making us sick? The simple answer is yes. We now know that it’s making us lonelier and we see an increase in cases of depression and anxiety. But it doesn’t stop there.

Loneliness can seem non-threatening. After all, everyone feels lonely from time to time. But that’s exactly what makes it potentially dangerous. It’s a silent killer.

It can often lead to a variety of health issues such as cardiovascular disease, respiratory illness, and cancer. Chronic loneliness can also lead to isolation, which is a significant component in the disease of addiction.

When a person has depression or anxiety and is addicted to drugs or alcohol, it’s referred to as a co-occurring disorder or a dual diagnosis. And it happens entirely too often.

To put it into perspective, 43.6 million (18.1%) Americans over 18 experienced some form of mental illness. Almost half also have substance use disorders.

Social Media is Making Us Sick: Here's What to Do

How to Be Happy Without Giving Up Social Media

Is social media the root of all evil? Given what we’ve seen in the news lately, it wouldn’t be a complete surprise. I digress. It’s not inherently evil. When used a healthy way, social media can be incredibly fulfilling.

“I have attention-seeking behaviors as an addict. I want validation and I want it instantly. What better way form to get that from than Facebook?”

It’s nice to be liked. It’s great to be accepted. Respected. Supported. But we have to remember that social media isn’t the best way to go about it. Amy has a few ideas.

“It’s about figuring out, how do you use it in a way that’s healthy for you,” Morin shared.

She also shared with us a couple of ways we can do this.

First, ask yourself why you’re posting what you post. Do you want to inspire others, share with family or do you want to get likes and attention?

Then make a list of all the reasons you think social media could be a problem for you. Review your list and take note of any patterns. Weigh the pros and cons.

Use an app like Cold Turkey to limit or control the amount of time you spend on social media. Or set your social apps to do not disturb mode to help you stay focused and less distracted throughout the day. (Here are some other apps you can use to limit time spent on social media.)

Set limits by separating yourself physically from your phone or other devices. Amy notes that most people use their phone as an alarm in the morning. Therefore your phone is at your bedside. Try putting it across the room to prevent any midnight scroll fests.

Amy recommends a digital detox. Start with just one day a month or one day a week, where you leave your phone at home. It might be scary to be disconnected but you’ll find that just one day off once in a while can make a big difference for your mental health.

What we’ve started to lose sight of is the fact that social media was meant to be a tool for connection, not a replacement. If you think you’re spending too much time on your phone, I hope that this episode can help inspire you to shut it down, look up, and be present with the people you have around you.

 

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